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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 10 May

Today's questions of the day concerned: Budget Blow Out – Sealord Fishing Boats – Ross Armstrong And TVNZ News – Unemployment – Air Force Redundancies – Thermal Power Stations – Army Air Combat Training – Indonesia – DHB Budgets – NZ Music – Violent Crime – Modern Apprenticeships - Cannabis Inquiry

Questions Of The Day - Thursday, 10 May 2001

The following are paraphrases of today's questions for oral answer. They are not complete or official, the official record of Parliamentary proceedings is Hansard, which is not finalised till some days after the event.

SCOOP COVERAGE BEGINS

Questions to Ministers

Question 1.

Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: Was she made aware of the Minister of Finance's concerns about exceeding the fiscal cap at the time of the December Economic and Fiscal Update; if so, did she advise him to keep that information from the rest of Cabinet?

A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) I am and was aware that the Minister of Finance is always concerned about the Government finances, that is his job.

Q: Will she advise the Minister of Finance not to tell others next year when the budget is blown again?

A: I have reason to believe that the Minister of Finance is confident that will not happen.

Q: Was she aware at the time of the DEFU about the blow out?

A: I repeat. I am and was aware that the Minister of Finance is always concerned about the Government finances, that is his job. The decision to extend the fiscal cap is a decision that cabinet as a whole makes, therefore it is not possible for it to have been kept secret.

Question 2.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (NZ First) to the Minister of Fisheries Pete Hodgson:

Q: Why did he say on Tuesday 8 May 2001 that the fishing company Sealord is selling none of its fishing vessels?

A: I said Sealord is selling none of its vessels because I was told so by Sealord’s CEO unequivocally.

Q: Given that his comments came on the basis of Sealord comments, how does he square that with comments from the ship brokers last night as reported in the media?

A: I have spoken to the ship broker myself, 20 minutes ago. He said he had received no legal advice, and had received no correspondence from Sealords. Aspects of the article in the Dominion are therefore incorrect. I am advised that Sealord needs more boats for all the fishing it is doing, not less.

Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Why is he answering questions about a private company for which he has no responsibility? And why are other Ministers not answering questions for which they are responsible?

(Speaker – that is not a question.

Richard Prebble – why doesn’t he answer it. Perhaps the reason he is answering is that he has no responsibility.)

A: Is the Minister expecting us to believe that the agent put these items on sale without any instructions?

(Speaker – the question is out of order.

Pete Hodgson – I am happy to table a document from Sealords and the ship brokers – granted

Winston Peters – I seek leave to table a letter from the ship broker offering the ships for sale – granted.)

Question 3.

Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National) to the Minister of Broadcasting Marian Hobbs:

Q: Has she seen the reported comments of Television New Zealand chairman Dr Ross Armstrong that the departure of the head of TVNZ News and Current Affairs was "a change made in heaven" and a "dream scenario"; if so, does he have her formal or informal approval for his comments?

A: Yes I have seen the reported comments. I have not discussed them with the Chairman, but he doesn’t need my approval before speaking to journalists.

Q: In light of the fact that Ross Armstrong’s interference was apparently prompted by threats from yourself to sell BCL quickly, does she consider herself responsible for Mr Cutler’s departure?

A: I wasn’t aware that Mr McCully was on the guest list at that meeting. I would warn him against repeating ill-informed gossip about that meeting. My recollection is quite different.

Q: What does the charter say about News and Current Affairs?

A: It says that TVNZ shall strive for high programme standards and editorial integrity. I am very confident that the chairman knows the difference between governance and management, and acts accordingly.

Q: Does she believe the Chairman’s comments undermine editorial independence?

A: I need to find out if such comments were made at all, and in what context. I have every confidence that the chairman understands editorial independence and acts accordingly.

Q: Can she confirm that Ross Armstrong is a former National Party official?

A: Yes.

Q: Can she give a guarantee that the new head of current affairs will be appointed by Mr Ellis without interference from Dr Armstrong?

A: The appointment of a successor for Mr Cutler is a management led process, save for the salary package which may need to be referred to the board’s salary and remuneration sub-committee.

Question 4.

LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN (Labour) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: What reports has he received on the state of the labour market?

A: Yes. The government welcomes the reduction in unemployment as measured in the HLFS to 5.4%. There are 16,000 fewer unemployed than there were a year ago.

Q: Does the data lend credence to the argument the economy is overheating?

A: No. The reduction in unemployment has been driven by the fall in the participation rate. Had this remained the same the unemployment rate would have remained the same. The fall in the participation rate has been driven by a move into training, and that is a good place for people to go. I can confirm that we are at a rate of unemployment last seen in 1988 under the last Labour Government. What I said is that we seem to have reached a plateau in the economy in the decline in unemployment.

Q: What about the high unemployment rate of young people?

A: I am concerned about this. But year on year the 15-19 year olds rate has fallen. The most important thing we can do is in the area of education and training. Which is something we are fully committed to.

Question 5.

OWEN JENNINGS (ACT) to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:

Q: What is the estimated total cost of all termination payments, including redundancies, superannuation, any accrued leave and all other payments, to air force and other defence staff resulting from the Government's decision to disband the air combat force?

A: A process is underway to identify this information.

Q: Owen Jennings (ACT): Can he confirm that some staff will receive $400,000 and that the cost will exceed the $140 million which may be obtained from the sale of the planes?

A: No. More than sufficient funds have been set aside to meet the costs of redundancies.

Q: Does he agree with comments in The Australian newspaper including that there is a case for Australia acquiring the Skyhawks?

A: No I do not support the comments. All options for disposal of the aircraft will be considered.

Q: Keith Locke (Green): Even if Mr Jennings is correct that this will cost a lot in redundancies, will there not also be a huge saving in the long term?

A: I see little risk of Mr Jennings being remotely correct. There are costs and benefits. The important thing about Tuesday’s announcement is that all the finances retained will be available for defence expenditure.

Q: What about comments form Jim Anderton that budgeted spending on defence will have to be revised down?

A: The Deputy PM was referring to the outrageous empty promises of the National Party about spending billions.

Question 6.

JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Green) to the Minister for the Environment Marian Hobbs:

Q: Will she use her call-in powers under the Resource Management Act 1991 in order to examine the national significance, including the possible effects on New Zealand's international obligations, of the carbon dioxide emissions of the two new 400MW thermal power stations planned by Contact Energy and Genesis Power; if not, why not?

A: The government is currently considering this issue and based on advice will make a decision shortly.

Q: Is a 50% increase in thermal capacity consistent with our Kyoto obligations?

A: Like the Minister of Energy I am constantly worried about Greenhouse gases. Some measures we have in mind may make gas power stations less attractive in the future.

Q: Given that China is opening a coal fired power station the size of Huntly every three weeks, what is the point of doing anything?

A: We need to be responsible at home before we start pointing fingers at others.

Question 7.

Hon MAX BRADFORD (National) to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:

Q: What is the nature of the "appropriate purchase arrangements for the future" he referred to in the House yesterday when he said "future individual training from other defence forces is already regular purchase, and in terms of coming to terms with the specific indications of yesterday's announcements, we are already progressing towards appropriate purchase arrangements for the future", and what amount has been budgeted for each of the next three years for these purchase arrangements?

A: The NZ Defence Force arranges training here and overseas. The NZDF is now considering an appropriate mix of training arrangements.

Q: What faith can the public have, and indeed the men and women of the NZDF have, when the Alliance say they are not committed to increasing defence expenditure?

A: The Deputy PM was referring to the outrageous spending promises of the National Party, not to this government’s commitments.

Q: What types of training have been sourced overseas in the past?

A: Many and varied. For example staff are sent all over the place. Advance forward air control training has been purchased in the UK in the past. Other staff have been sent to the states. In addition the Navy send personnel to the UK for training too.

Q: Will soldiers like John McNutt be able to get appropriate training in the future?

A: The necessary budget provisions are indicated in the announcements made two days ago.

Q: In light of comments from the Alliance, is the only security that the NZDF has an early change of government?

A: Again. I have discussed this with the Alliance. The comments referred to relate to National Party spending plans.

(Owen Jennings – leave to table comments form Mr Anderton – granted)

Question 8.

CHRIS CARTER (Labour) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Phil Goff:

Q: What has been the Government's response to the Indonesian court sentencing six men charged with the killing of three United Nations refugee workers in Atambua last year?

A: The NZ Government has condemned as “grossly inadequate” these sentences. The court’s decision suggests that Indonesian justice cannot be relied upon to deal with political killings and human rights abuses.

Q: Has this been passed on to the Indonesian Government?

A: It most certainly has. In Indonesia our ambassador has visited the Foreign Minister. To reinforce the message the Indonesian Charge was yesterday called in and told that the Indonesian Government was expected to redress the failures. NZ is left with little option but to push for an international tribunal to deal with Indonesian war crimes.

Question 9.

Hon ROGER SOWRY (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Will she meet with District Health Boards New Zealand prior to the Budget to discuss funding for district health boards in the forthcoming financial year?

A: (Tariana Turia on behalf) Yes. I met with the chair of DHBs NZ earlier this week.

Q: Why have DHBs been forbidden from discussing funding for the coming year?

A: They haven’t been so forbidden.

Q: What steps are being taken to make DHBs more efficient?

A: I am encouraging them to work together in clusters to save money. I am as concerned about potential deficits as any responsible Minister would be expected to.

Q: What about claims from Medical Specialists that there will be no money for wage rises?

A: It is the responsibility of the DHB boards to work through those issues with staff, not for me as minister.

Q: Roger Sowry (National): What about Wanganui DHB, which is also facing a cut?

A: It is not the first time that boards have been faced with deficits. When that member was minister hospitals clocked up $185 million in deficits.

Question 10.

GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Judith Tizard:

Q: What steps has the Government taken to support New Zealand music?

A: In July last year we established the Music Industry Commission. This month they are leading NZ music month. We have helped this industry greatly.

Q: What about other forms of music?

A: In addition to popular music we have boosted Creative NZ funding by $20 million. We also gave the NZSO an extra $1.4 million a year and a one off $3 million grant.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Is one step the government has made this week to support NZ music been to ensure that the last people to be made redundant in the Air Force be the band?

A: That is not my responsibility unfortunately. The member will need to ask the Minister of Defence.

Question 11.

Hon TONY RYALL (National) to the Minister of Police George Hawkins:

Q: Can he confirm that official police statistics released last month show that, for the year ended 31 December 2000, recorded violent offences per 10,000 population were the highest since 1988; if so, did he know this when he said last month "New Zealand is a more secure place to be"?

A: I want to tell the public that when National came to power in 1990 ….

(Speaker – order. Could the minister please answer the question.)

A: The biggest increase in violent crime happened under the National Government…

(Winston Peters – the fact this Minister cannot think on his feet is no excuse not to answer the question.

Roger Sowry – we are seeing a growing trend of Minister’s refusing to answer questions. It is even within this Minister’s capability to provide an answer to this question. If the house is to remain orderly we need good faith from the Government.

Speaker – indeed questions are important, and Ministers ought to treat questions in a consistent manner with their constitutional duties.

Roger Sowry – the government has clearly made a tactical decision not to answer a question about the budget blow out.

Speaker – will the minister now answer.)

A: Violent crime increased by 4.4% last year. But that pales into insignificance compared with what happened under National.

(Winston Peters – the minister is back into his diatribe again.

Speaker – he did answer the question. He then made a comment. That is allowed.

Richard Prebble – standing order 372 says that answers must be given to the question unless there is a public interest reason not to. I suggest that the minister should be asked to answer the original question again.

Speaker – as long as the minister addresses the question he may raise comparative material.

Roger Sowry – the minister has only answered half the question. The question asks whether he knew this last month when he said what he said. Does he have to answer that second part if the question.

Speaker – I believe the minister has given an answer addressing the question.

Winston Peters – are you ruling that he has answered the second part of the question? Or does he not have to?

Michael Cullen – the ruling is very clear. The Minister needs to give an answer if it is consistent with the public interest. You are not the judge of the quality of the answer and nor should you be.

Speaker – exactly right, all that is required is that the question be addressed.)

Q: Tony Ryall (National): Did he know when he made his comments that NZ was more secure, that violent crime is at its highest ever levels?

A: When I made the comment I was aware that there were 10,000 less offences over all. And therefore fewer victims. That said I intend to keep reminding the National Opposition that violent crime rose hugely under the National Government. Burglary has now fallen to an 18 year low. Even Tony Ryall acknowledges that burglary is the entry point to violent crime.

Q: What has the government done to crack down on crime?

A: We have provided more than $100 million of extra funding to the police. We have demanded 24 hour response times for burglaries.

Q: Ron Marks (NZ First): Is the reason violent crime at its highest levels since 1988 that a) there are police shortages or b) that there are police shortages or c) that there are police shortages, or all of the above?

A: It is d) because we are taking some time to clear up the mess made by the last government. In 1999 there were 438,000 offences, in 2000 there were 427,000, I think that Tony Ryall doesn’t understand this.

(Tony Ryall – leave to table violent crime statistics – refused.)

Question 12.

NANAIA MAHUTA to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: What progress has been made in the implementation of the Modern Apprenticeships initiative?

A: More good news. We have established coordination services in eight industries. We are working on several more industries. We currently have 802 modern apprentices and are on the way to more.

Q: What about Maori?

A: There has been a considerable contribution from the Government’s Maori caucus to this programme. 20% of apprentices are Maori. (Leave sought to table information about distribution regionally of apprentices – granted.)

Q: How does the programme compare to the 50,000 people training under the ITO programme.

A: We will reach 1200 apprentices by July this year. By March next year we will reach 3000. This programme is in addition to the ITO scheme.

Q: What about the low percentage of women involved?

A: I am concerned about that, yes. It is because these are traditionally male areas of employment. We need to encourage young women into these areas of work.

Q: John Luxton (National): How many are women and how many are Maori?

A: I will provide that answer direct to the member.

Questions to Members

Question 1.

NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) to the Chairperson of the Health Committee Judy Keall:

Q: How many hours has the committee met in addition to the normal meeting hours during sitting weeks on its inquiry into health strategies relating to cannabis use and how many additional hours does it intend to sit?

A: None as yet. As I said last week, the timetable for the inquiry is yet to be decided by the committee.

Q: How many extra hours has the committee worked on its heavy workload?

(Speaker – that is outside the scope of this sort of question.)

Q: Stephen Franks (ACT): Has expert assistance been requested?

A: The committee has actually identified some assistance it needs to work with this bill. But I would not like to predetermine the outcome of this inquiry.

SCOOP COVERAGE ENDS

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